Darkness Falls Again
Remembered largely by North American audiences for their inescapable 1997 club hit “Another World”, German synthpop act Beborn Beton have spent most of the last two decades on hiatus. Emerging briefly in the the middle of the 2010s when they released comeback LP A Worthy Compensation, it’s another eight years to release new follow-up Darkness Falls Again. Those extended absences create a double-edged sword of expectations – on the one hand the promise of a new record is sure to intrigue those who internalized their unique persona via their dense, song-rich 90s catalogue beyond the basic hits, while on the other hand the expectation to live up to those highs can be a no-win situation.
That makes it hard to really gauge the quality of the new LP in objective terms. It features many of the things that made Beborn Beton interesting; vocalist Stefan Netschio’s croon is as smooth as ever, the band still makes interesting choices with regards to sound design and instrumentation, and their signature slightly-wry emotional sensibility shines through across the eight tracks. A cut like idiosyncratic opener “My Monstrosity” with its unpredictable vocal melody, detuned guitar strums and string plucks and layering of contrasting synths just sounds like Beborn Beton in a way that should resonate with devotees. Their identity as a band has proven distinct and resilient and is undimmed by the years between records.
Where the LP falls short is the songs. For all their other qualities, Beborn Beton always had a way with a tune, and from their most well-known anthems to their deep album cuts, they’ve never lacked for hooks before. Darkness Falls Again is almost the inverse of the preceding A Worthy Compensation in that way; where that record felt notably dated in terms of production, it had a host of excellent and memorable songs, many of which were apparently stockpiled during their years out of the spotlight. Darkness Falls Again sounds quite good from a recording and technical standpoint, with a nice clear mix and lots of room for the arrangements to unfold in interesting ways, but only a few memorable numbers. Second single “I Watch My Life on TV” has a nice mid-tempo groove but the melody feels like a paint-by-numbers retread of other songs from the catalogue, a problem it shares with “Last Chance”, which starts promisingly enough with some distorted synth guitar chug, but loses momentum as it meanders through a few dynamic shifts.
Which is not to say there’s nothing to recommend the record; single “Dancer in the Dark” is pretty much a perfect Beborn Beton song, from its bouncy verse, instantly hummable chorus accented with nice applications of keys and a tasteful guitar solo, and “Burning Gasoline” hearkens back to some of the group’s industrial-adjacent 90s numbers with distorted vocal samples, thudding kicks and Netschio leaning into a grave delivery appropriate for the theme of impending environmental disaster. And as noted, Beborn Beton have enough honest-to-god charm and personality that you can overlook an anemic chorus or dry melody; I don’t remember much about “Trockenfallen Lassen” or “Electricity” after they’re over, but they’re recorded and performed with enough style to carry them through multiple listens without difficulty. It’s a matter of expectations then; those seeking a perfectly fine record with a few highlights so long as it sounds and more importantly feels like a proper Beborn Beton record will be more than satisfied. An okay Beborn Beton record is still a better than average listening experience, a testament to their singular and enduring character.